What Do Capers Taste Like: Barbara’s Response & Guide To Recipe Improvement

You somehow managed to avoid capers your entire life, but now you want to try out a new recipe that calls for them, and you’re not entirely sure what to expect taste-wise?

Or maybe you’ve had them before, without even realizing.

Trust me, it’s possible – my two boys had no clue the first few times they ate chicken piccata, which, as you may or may not know, includes capers. 

Either way, the question is: What do capers taste like?

That’s precisely the topic I’m tackling today, so stick around to learn all about it. 🙂

What Are Capers, Anyway?

Pickled flower buds.

You wanted to know, so there you have it – capers are, in fact, pickled flower buds

I know, it doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it is what it is.

Long before caper buds ever get the chance to flower, they’re picked, dried, and brined or packed in salt. The result is a unique briny (or salty) flavor – but more on that later.

You may have heard about caper berries, and now you’re wondering are these two the same thing. While I somewhat understand where your confusion is coming from, especially if you never had the chance to use capers in your recipes, to answer your question:

No, capers are not the same thing as caper berries

So, what’s the difference? 

Well, for one, capers are immature flower buds, and caper berries are the result of letting the flowers mature and produce a fruit that’s similar in size to olives.

See Also:

Capers: An Acquired Taste

Capers have been a part of the Mediterranean cuisine for longer than you could imagine; as a condiment, they were included in all kinds of Greek, Italian, Spanish, and French dishes.

However, due to the benefits of modern-day transportation, they became widely available in the American culinary scene, as well.

Now that you've learned all that, I think it's time to move on to why you're here: to see what capers taste like.

But first, tell me, are you a fan of olives? 

I’ve gotten under the impression that a lot of people tend to have an easier time getting used to the taste of capers if they already like green olives. I wouldn’t say they taste like olives per se, but the comparison is worth keeping in mind.

The reason behind this is that capers can be brined the same way green olives are, so, naturally, if you know (and like) the taste of brined green olives, you won’t be caught off-guard when you try them for the first time.

In fact, you can use green olives as a substitute for capers in recipes, which says a lot about their similarities.

Providing a somewhat accurate description of their taste seems a lot harder than I originally thought – it’s mostly due to their unique flavor. Some will say they are an acquired taste, and not something you like instantly.

The best way to describe what capers taste like would be tangy and sharp, and somewhat lemony and herbal. Since they’re either salt-packed or brined, they’ll also develop a salty or briny aroma that could be too much if you don’t rinse them. 

Now you’re probably wondering which ones are better – brined or salt-packed capers?

Well, it depends on what you’re looking for – pure taste or longer shelf life?

Brined capers will have a lot sharper flavor, with a hint of earthy to it, but chances of them going bad are close to none. When they are salt-packed, however, they won’t last long – the salt will eventually suck all the moisture out of them; they do tend to have a more pure flavor, though.

You do need to keep in mind that, considering their size, they pack a lot of flavors, so don’t over-do it when you add them to your recipes. If you’re not careful, they quickly take over the entire dish and make it overwhelming rather than just acting as a flavor booster.

Whether you end up liking them or not, one thing’s for sure – you won’t be left feeling indifferent.

As I said, for most people, capers have a taste that you either get used to or don’t – there’s no middle ground; in that sense, they’re a lot like fennel. (Also check out my Fennel Seed Substitutes here)

My two boys, for example, have never brought themselves to like it - if you ask them about capers, they’ll just make a weird face and shake their heads.

They will, however, tolerate it (happily, if I might add) when I include them in some of their favorite dishes - that’s pretty much the only way I can trick them into eating capers.

How Capers Can Drastically Improve Your Recipes

If you’re looking to add a particular salty flavor to your recipes, consider using capers – the possibilities of cooking with capers are pretty much endless.

Include just a few into your standard dishes; you’ll see, it won’t be long before everyone starts asking for your secret ingredient.

I’ve noticed capers have the power to add that special something to many of my dishes; some of my favorite ways to include them in my family’s diet are:

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    Sauces – If you’re cooking chicken or fish, a sauce with capers in it will be a fantastic companion to your dish.
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    Soups and Stews – Since they go exceptionally well with seafood, any seafood-based stew (or soup) will benefit hugely by just a tiny amount of capers added to it.
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    Salads – You can make dressings using capers; alternatively, you can add them to your salad as an ingredient and let them do their magic.
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    Pasta – As I mentioned earlier, capers originated in the Mediterranean and were a part of Italian, French, as well as Greek cuisine long before we ever heard of them. It’s no wonder, then, that they are one of the key ingredients in many kinds of pasta.

Here’s an additional tip for cooking with capers:

When you decide to add capers to your dish, you should rinse them first. By washing away any extra brine or salt, you'll allow for its authentic flavor to manifest.

Also, remember it’s best to add them towards the end of preparing your dish; that way, they’ll keep their shape, as well as their signature taste.

Oh, and if you’re a fan of Bloody Marys, you’ll be happy to learn that capers are a great way to upgrade the traditional cocktail recipe.


So, Capers: Yay or Nay?

As you can probably tell by now, for many people out there, capers are an acquired taste.

There’s no way for me to know if it will eventually grow on you, but here’s the thing about every type of food that has an unusual flavor - capers included:

The key to liking it is repetition.

So, if you already tried capers and your taste buds didn’t seem to be too thrilled about it, give it another try.

And another one, if you’re still not quite pleased with the results. The way I see it, there are two possible ways this whole thing with capers could go down:

Either you'll learn to like it, or you'll get tired of trying. 🙂

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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